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German SPD Backs Coalition Negotiations

The SPD aims to negotiate an improved coalition deal it can sell to members wary of acting as junior partner to Merkel, with its leader already having said that all SPD members will get to vote on a final coalition deal
Angela MerkelAngela Merkel

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) voted on Sunday to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, moving Europe’s economic powerhouse closer to a stable government after months of political deadlock.

SPD delegates voted 362 to 279, with one abstention, to press ahead with negotiations. The center-left party’s leaders had agreed a preliminary coalition blueprint with Merkel’s conservative bloc earlier this month, Reuters reported.

A recount was held after an initial show of hands was too close to call for the SPD official in charge of the count and the result was slightly narrower that most analysts expected.

“We are of course all relieved,” SPD leader Martin Schulz told Phoenix television after the vote in Bonn, the capital of former West Germany where late SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt earned reputations as global statesmen.

Now, the SPD aims to negotiate an improved coalition deal it can sell to members wary of acting as junior partner to Merkel. Schulz has already said that all SPD members will get to vote on a final coalition deal.

“The coalition talks are going to be just as hard as the exploratory talks,” said Schulz. “We will talk to conservatives in the coming days and agree on a time frame. Then I hope that we will start negotiations soon.”

Merkel welcomed the SPD’s decision, saying she looked forward to intensive talks focused on reaching a conclusion which she hoped would take place in a sensible atmosphere.

“The blueprint from the exploratory talks is the framework in which we will negotiate and there are still many questions to clear up in detail and that will require intensive talks,” Merkel told reporters.

The beginning of full coalition negotiations is likely to be welcomed by Germany’s partners in Europe, where Merkel has long played a leading role in economic and security affairs.

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday they wanted to deepen bilateral cooperation and give the European Union a fresh push toward closer integration.

The leader of Merkel’s Bavarian allies, Horst Seehofer, told Bild am Sonntag before the SPD vote he expected a new government to be in place in the first half of March. After the vote, he said the close decision would not make the negotiations easy.

The head of Germany’s BDI industry association, Dieter Kempf, said the SPD vote was no reason to relax. “The vote sets new high hurdles for successful negotiations,” Kempf said.

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